About The Creativity Seminar

The Creativity Seminar teaches individuals, teams and companies new ways to develop ideas and solve problems.

It offers techniques and tools that make the creative process easier and more productive. Creativity is a skill — which can be developed, practiced and improved.

Through these interactive presentations, Sean Kelly examines famous ideas and inventions by others, and shares examples from 35 years of his own creative work to show how to generate breakthrough solutions to challenging assignments.

Corporations, media companies, universities and arts organizations have benefited from these inspiring lectures and workshops that stimulate the imagination and spark innovation.

Design: Improving Through Improv

Sean Kelly's Creativity Seminar pays homage to the imaginative work of improvisational theater groups like Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade, and demonstrates how their inventive techniques can be applied to problem solving in any field. In particular, he describes how the improv game of "Yes, And" allows performers -- and team members in work projects -- to build upon each other's ideas, provide positive reinforcement and expand a conversation in unexpectedly creative ways.

Now, Kelly receives a reply of "Yes, And" from Dartmouth College Professor Peter Robbie who ponders whether improv comedians might even make great design thinkers.

From an article in the Winter 2010 issue of Dartmouth Engineer by Elizabeth Kelsey:
"At Thayer School’s MacLean Engineering Sciences Center, Professor Robbie’s Design Thinking course is “...a class on improv as a tool for brainstorming,” he explains. “I’ve always thought that the quickest and smartest folks at the brainstorming phase of design have been those who do standup and improv.

They never say no. They never miss a beat. Improv requires players to accept what they are given, build on the ideas of others, and encourage wild ideas.”

"Using improv to get students comfortable with brainstorming is a case in point. “Everyone thinks that they know how to brainstorm, but in fact, brainstorming is usually plagued by problems like self-censoring,
competitiveness, and ridicule,” says Robbie. “Improv is a great way for students to learn to defer judgment.”
Full article here.

Dartmouth Professor Peter Robbie (Photograph by John Sherman)

Storm in the Brain

Dr. Rex Jung, an assistant research professor in the department of neurosurgery at the University of New Mexico, is leading a team in the first systematic research on the neurology of the creative process, including its relationship to personality and intelligence. The findings of the Mind Research Network as 
reported by Patricia Cohen in The New York Times:
They hope to figure out precisely which biochemicals, electrical impulses and regions were used when, say, Picasso painted “Guernica,” or Louise Nevelson assembled her wooden sculptures. Using M.R.I. technology, researchers are monitoring what goes on inside a person’s brain while he or she engages in a creative task. Yet the images of signals flashing across frontal lobes have pushed scientists to re-examine the very way creativity is measured in a laboratory. Responses by participants to a series of tests are used to generate what Dr. Jung calls a “Composite Creativity Index,” and his research has produced some surprising results. One study of 65 subjects suggests that creativity prefers to take a slower, more meandering path than intelligence. “The brain appears to be an efficient superhighway that gets you from Point A to Point B” when it comes to intelligence, Dr. Jung explained. “But in the regions of the brain related to creativity, there appears to be lots of little side roads with interesting detours, and meandering little byways.” Although intelligence and skill are generally associated with the fast and efficient firing of neurons, subjects who tested high in creativity had thinner white matter and connecting axons that have the effect of slowing nerve traffic in the brain. This slowdown in the left frontal cortex, a region where emotional and cognitive abilities are integrated, Dr. Jung suggested, “might allow for the linkage of more disparate ideas, more novelty and more creativity.”
Read the full article from The New York Times.

  Images from brain research conducted by the Mind Research Network. Subjects who tested high in creativity had thinner white matter and connecting axons that slow nerve traffic in the brain. In these images, the green tracks show the white matter being analyzed. The yellow and red spots show where creativity corresponds with slower nerve traffic. The blue areas show where “openness to experience,” associated with creativity, corresponds with slower nerve traffic.

Journalists: Don't Just Redo. Rethink.

From Poynter's Craig Silverman:
Richard Gingras says that at this moment in journalism, “transformation” is a four letter word. 

Gingras, the head of news and social products for Google, spoke to a group of journalism professors at this year’s Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute event at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fifteen instructors from around the United States came to Phoenix to “learn principles of journalism entrepreneurship.” 

Gingras stressed that old models for revenue, content and storytelling need to be completely rethought, rather than merely transformed, in order for the news business to thrive in the digital age. 

“As long as one thinks transformationally, you limit your capabilities because you limit yourself,” he said. “… It doesn’t work. Worse than not working, it becomes self defeating. … We really do need to rethink everything.” 

Rather than focusing on transformation, he said, journalists should be focused on invention. 

An example of that thinking is the lack of innovation when it comes to story pages online: “It stuns me that 15 years in we’re still seeing story architectures mimicking the traditional architecture of print,” he said. 

Instead, he told the professors to encourage journalism students to develop ideas, products and companies that operate with “zero baggage.” “We owe it to ourselves, to the importance of our journalistic mission, to consider all opportunities,” he said.

Quote of the Day

"Creativity is not some 

exotic, optional extra. 

It's a strategic issue." 

The Missing Link To Innovation: Creative-Thinking Skills

Creativity doesn't need to be random, abstract or mysterious. Its an ability that can be developed, practiced and improved. Creativity is not so much a talent as it is a learnable, goal-oriented methodology for producing breakthrough solutions. And if you know the tricks, you can perform some magic.

While innovation is an overused word in the business world, what’s underemphasized is the crucial stage that precedes innovation: how to think creatively.

Very often, individuals or groups will commit too soon to a concept that came to them quickly or was based on an existing product — feeling that they're being "innovative" — without first having imagined other possibilities and explored the potential for something truly original. It's partly out of laziness. They avoid what they see as work, not realizing that the creative process is really play. What these groups lack are the tools for analyzing challenges and generating new ideas, the collection of techniques known as creative-thinking skills.

Deconstructed by Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile, creativity has three components: expertise, motivation, and creative-thinking skills. She first diagrammed this intersection in her 1998 HBR article, “How To Kill Creativity.”  By understanding these three components and how to use them effectively, Amabile explains, we can become more creative.

As Sean Kelly teaches in his Creativity Seminar, the third and the most essential of these components, creative-thinking skills, can be learned, and applied, through deliberate practices, allowing the creative process to become a natural habit.

The Three Components of Creativity:

EXPERTISE is the in-depth knowledge — technical, procedural and intellectual — and the mastery and experience individuals have in their particular field.

MOTIVATION determines the degree to which an individual is willing to do something, and how likely they are to persevere through obstacles and setbacks. But motivation is a coin with two sides: extrinsic and intrinsic.
EXTRINSIC MOTIVATION is a force outside the individual — and the most common one is money, as in bonuses or promotions. But, extrinsic motivators may sabotage creative efforts because they often encourage doing the job just to get something desirable or avoid something painful. And, they leave employees looking merely for the simplest, straightest path, solving the problem exactly as it was solved before. Teresa Amabile years ago posed a question to participants in a study: If you were paid more, would you do better work? The surprising answer was “no.”
INTRINSIC MOTIVATION, from within the individual and the work itself, encourages people to work for the challenge, enjoyment, and satisfaction of doing a particular task or project. The advantage of intrinsic motivators is that the level of reward and gratification an employee experiences is directly tied to the success of the assignment. Amabile found that intrinsic motivations are more effective for creativity. An inner passion to solve a problem, and a love of the process, lead to far more creative solutions than do external rewards like money. 
CREATIVE-THINKING SKILLS are the multiple tools that individuals apply to problems — in particular, their capacity to put existing ideas together in new combinations. These creative-thinking skills include techniques for accurately defining a problem, seeing challenges from new perspectives, generating multiple ideas, selecting the optimum alternatives, and implementing those solutions as products. Students and workers in many fields are well versed in critical thinking, but most are much less familiar with its opposite skill; creative thinking.
Regardless of how much expertise and motivation we might have, if we don't know how to develop new ideas, we never will be innovative.
In more detail, the subsets of these creative-thinking skills can be examined on four deeper levels — cognitive; affective; personal and motivational; and social or environmental.

Among these, cognitive and affective elements are arguably the most important. Cognitive aspects of creativity include expertise, as in knowledge both general and field-specific. But the cognitive also involves perceptiveness, originality, attraction to complexity (e.g., combining, analyzing, and applying different, disparate concepts), open-mindedness (e.g., resistance to closure, tolerance for ambiguity) and — very simply — awareness of creativity, in ourselves and others. Affective elements include curiosity, humor, independence and risk-taking, all of which are crucial skills.

At the intersection of our expertise and our motivation, if we add the least emphasized but most valuable skill of all, creative-thinking, we’ll find our greatest creativity.

(Based on the research of Teresa Amabile, the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and author of Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity, as well as Creativity in Context, and The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work, with Steven Kramer.)

With Gratitude

A very kind compliment about The Creativity Seminar from Eric Newton, the senior adviser to the president at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, who recently conducted a fascinating experiment in Flash Philanthropy. Eric has just released an inspiring, insightful, and beautifully designed digital book (employing parallax scrolling) that's both a call for and an example of change in journalism and journalism education: "Searchlights and Sunglassses: Field Notes from the Digital Age of Journalism." Thank you, Eric.

Why Business Leaders Should Act More Like Artists

John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design, knows all too well the many stereotypes about artists. But when he had a conversation with two RISD textile entrepreneurs in Chicago, Robert Segal and Alicia Rosauer, he realized that leaders in the business world could benefit by adopting some of the less well-known traits of successful artists.

From Harvard Business Review:

"The three "aha's" I received from my conversation with partners Segal and Rosauer were:

1. Artists constantly collaborate. The example given was the common occurrence of an exhibition with multiple artists showing together, or the so-called "group show." Even in the context of a solo show, the artist works with the gallery owner, the curator, the framers, the installers, the lighting person, the publicist to bring their vision to life. Every exhibition is a collaboration to the nth degree.

2. Artists are talented communicators. The whole point of a work of art is to communicate something — a thought, an idea, a feeling, a vision. More explicitly, the artist frequently gives a talk to explain the thought process behind the artwork. Engaging the audience in a meaningful, expansive dialogue is often critical to the exhibition's success.

3. Artists learn how to learn together. Perhaps the reason why artists collaborate and socialize so well is that they learn in the studio model — ten or more students in the same room for hours on end. Bonded together in a personal space of intimate self-expression, they come into their own through the familial ties of the studio setting.

We've all seen the business world increasingly crave an approach that balances values with profits. One natural way to do this is to adopt an artist's point of view; the honesty and integrity that artists naturally bring to their work will be increasingly relevant."

More from John Maeda here.

Varied Experience, Broad Understanding

"When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it -- they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experience. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.

The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better inventions we will have."

— Steve Jobs, Wired, February 1996

Stop Saying "Disruption": It Doesn't Mean What You Think

(Photo: Janine Cheng)
"Every industry has its buzzwords. (Ask a management consultant about 'core competencies,' or a banker about 'synergies.') And 'disrupt' is entering a league of its own. But when everything is disruptive, nothing is. Which is exactly why it might be time to kill the word disruption altogether."
Kevin Roose, a contributor to New York Magazine, author of Young Money, and graduate of Brown University, has the courage to say that the emperor has no clothes. Or at least they're not the clothes the emperor thinks they are.

Please, for the love of god, he urges, stop using the word "disrupt."
"For starters, the word is frequently used incorrectly. 'Disruptive' doesn't mean 'inventive,' 'unorthodox,' or 'cool.' It has a specific, concrete definition that originated with Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen's 1995 paper, "Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave,” and his 1997 book, The Innovator's Dilemma. Christensen defined 'disruptive innovation' as the process by which 'technologically straightfoward' services and products target the bottom end of an established market, then move their way up the chain until, eventually, they overtake the existing market leaders.  
By this token, lots of today's "disruptive" start-ups aren't disruptive at all.   
Harvard Business Review, which published Christensen's original definition of disruptive innovation, agrees it's being overused. Maxwell Wessel writes: 'If a start-up starts launches a better product, at a higher margin, to an incumbent’s best customers — that’s not disruption. That’s just … innovation.'  
In this week's The New Yorker, Jill Lepore deconstructs Christensen's writings on disruptive innovation — pointing out, for example, that many of the case studies he uses to illustrate what happens to a disrupted incumbent aren't supported by history. 
For example, although Christensen writes that U.S. Steel struggled to adapt to disruptive innovation in the form of 'minimilling' — a process for making cheaper sheet metal — what really differentiated U.S. Steel from its minimilling competitors was that U.S. Steel had labor unions and minimilling companies didn't. The 'disruptive' part of minimilling wasn't the technology, in other words — it was money-saving labor arrangements. 
We know that not all disruptive change is good, of course. (As Lepore points out, 'When the financial-services industry disruptively innovated, it led to a global financial crisis.') But much of it is." 
"I'm not opposed to the concept of disruptive innovation," writes Roose, "just the incessant droning on about it, and the unfortunately common practice among corporate executives of blindly waving the flag of disruption instead of engaging in real discussions about their creations."

"In other words," he says, "for actual disruption to work best, 'disruption' has got to go."

Read the full New York magazine article, and learn more about Kevin Roose.

UPDATE: Clayton Christensen responds to Jill Lepore in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Avoid "Group Think." Diverse Teams are More Creative.


The goal of creativity is to generate new ideas, by seeing things from a new perspective. But a group that's all the same is doomed to think the same — and to tread the same path they've trod before. The point in forming a creative team isn't to fill it with those who will "fit in," but to fill it with those who will challenge the team in a constructive way.

Diversity is a crucial component of group creativity. Teams benefit not only from a variety of backgrounds and experiences but a variety of thinking styles. An intellectually diverse group operates more creatively and is more likely to generate innovative solutions.

Conformity is the enemy of collaboration. When all members are alike, they often reach agreement quickly -- and although that may seem to be an asset, it is more often a liability. Only later might they realize that they lost a chance to see things differently and to create something truly groundbreaking, by tapping the experience of outside experts.

Business leaders: include, for instance, a historian. Engineers: include a social worker. Writers: include a visual artist. Lawyers: include a psychologist. Code developers: include a translator of other codes, a musician. Unusual connections produce exciting results; Steve Jobs said that innovation occurs at the intersection of technology and the arts.

Even engaging a contrarian or strong critic who disagrees with a group can be surprisingly useful. As Beth Comstock, Chief Marketing Officer at General Electric, writes in Harvard Business Review:
"Critics challenge assumptions and are usually very passionate. Invite them in; hear them out. You may be surprised by how much you learn, and also by how thinking about a problem from a different perspective can refresh and energize your own ideas. In the best case scenario, your harsh critic is now your teammate, and not incidentally, will own the particular issue you asked them about. Turning a critic into a passionate advocate and supporter is a great goal in innovation."  
Diversity trumps ability. Outsiders arrive with skills, experiences and ways of operating that insiders might not possess. The author of "The Difference," Scott E. Page, Professor of Complex Systems, Politics and Economics at the University of Michigan understands the creative opportunity in including a unique team member.
"An outsider can be very helpful, not because they are necessarily smarter than you, but because they are different than you. And this difference is in how they naturally or innately think about what is important when they see a problem or a situation. Diverse perspectives sometimes give you the equivalent of more brain power because they give you more search power. They give you more places you can look for ideas and solutions." 
A homogeneous collection of individuals is likely to be too cozy with each other; comfort is another enemy of creativity. What the group needs is stimulation, surprises and an unusual direction. A newcomer who's curious, and even playful, will be willing to say and ask anything -- sparking unexpected conversations.

A leading expert on innovation and corporate creativity, author and professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, Dorothy Leonard goes so far as to refer to this healthy dynamic as a visit from aliens:
“‘Aliens' come in with a different perspective than the organization or the profession has, which can be very helpful. 'Aliens' are useful because they see problems and opportunities with new eyes.  'Aliens' jar an organizational pattern of thinking, or an individual pattern of thinking. You have someone coming in asking naive or uncomfortable questions like, "Why do you do it that way?"  It can cause a lot of discomfort if the members of a group don't understand that that is the function of the 'alien', and that it actually serves a very useful purpose." 

Illustration, at top right, based on original engraving:
In 1727 Benjamin Franklin assembled a group of friends from various backgrounds to participate in a structured forum to discuss and debate topics of the day: business, politics, philosophy and morals. He called the group Junto, from the Latin root for "join." But none of the members were like him. Franklin deliberately selected individuals from diverse occupations and disciplines -- scriveners, merchants, bibliophiles, surveyors, cabinet makers, astrologers, cobblers and bartenders -- for he knew the discussion would be more wide-ranging, engaging and ultimately more productive with varied experiences and points of view. The meetings, Franklin said, “are to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory." Franklin, a man of many talents, understood the benefits of diversity.

Think Different

"I can't understand why people 
are frightened of new ideas. 

I'm frightened of the old ones."

— John Cage

Visual Thinking for Writers

Visual thinking involves using images as tools to allow the creative and emotional part of the brain to process information in an intuitive manner.

Suzanne Choo, of Teachers College at Columbia University, in an article published by The National Council of Teachers of English, advances the question: What if visual thinking were given special emphasis in the English classroom? She proposes
"...a curriculum grounded on three principles: (1) sense and perception as starting points; (2) meta-conceptual links between visual and verbal texts; and (3) the art of visualization in the writing process.

The emphasis on sensory experience, perceptual thinking, and visualization is a deliberate attempt to challenge reason, critical thinking, and linearity of thought that have come to dominate the teaching of writing in contemporary English classrooms.

Typically in such classrooms, critical-thinking skills in various forms are emphasized, such as the ability to write a persuasive argument using logical reasoning or the ability to write an informed response by analyzing and evaluating a given text."
But, in traditional teaching, critical thinking dominates visual thinking. So, Choo recommends that both skills be given a more equal balance through a multimodal approach of teaching. Two benefits are gained from this method:
"First, visual texts provide an easier access to printed texts, particularly for English Language Learners, via the facilitation of meta-conceptual links. Secondly, for native speakers of English, the inclusion of strategies that promote visual thinking along with critical thinking is especially relevant given the image-saturated, mass-mediated societies that they are likely to be immersed in."
Numerous scholarly works have identified that although most school systems support a language-centered curriuclum based on linearity of thought, more recent generations of students have been raised with greater exposure to visual stimuli, through television, computers and mobile devices. It's understood that instructors must broaden their focus "from grammar and genre to meta-concepts related to aesthetic composition in visual and printed texts."

An opportunity, Choo suggests, would be created to allow students to use visual design techniques to construct and organize their written work.
"The primary goal of such an approach is to provide creative spaces in the writing classroom that would empower students to become not just writers but also composers of texts."
By turning abstract ideas into visible concrete ones, visual learning techniques help students to understand and interpret information. These techniques can provide structure for writing and reporting -- through tools such as storyboarding -- as well as analyzing and discussion, and can help students to focus their thoughts and ideas.

Research by child development theorist Linda Kreger Silverman suggests that less than 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking, another 45% uses both visual/spatial thinking and verbal thinking, and 25% thinks exclusively in words.

Harvard University art professor Rudolph Arnheim coined the phrase "visual thinking" in his 1969 book of the same name, explaining how the development of imagery can allow us to make connections and apply the pictures in our mind's eye to the world around us, helping us communicate more effectively. He wrote, "The clarification of visual forms and their organization in integrated patterns as well as the attribution of such forms to suitable objects is one of the most effective training grounds of the young mind."

In 1981 Roger Sperry won a Nobel Prize for his split brain research.The right hemisphere -- the non-verbal hemisphere -- he concluded, is indeed a conscious system in its own right, perceiving, thinking, remembering, reasoning, willing, and emoting, all at a characteristically human level, and that both the left and the right hemisphere may be conscious simultaneously in different, even in mutually conflicting, mental experiences that run along in parallel.

More recently Stephen Pinker wrote in The Language Instinct that because we are not born with language, we therefore cannot be engineered to think in words alone.

Writing is linear; our brains are not. Our writing processes can be improved if they better reflect the way we think. Many writers have found that visual thinking offers a powerful creative tool for translating our non-linear thoughts into clear writing.

See Sean Kelly's video on visual thinking.

Imagination Begins With the Word 'Image"

Click image for Visual Thinking: Writing With Pictures by Sean Kelly on Vimeo.

Visual thinking is like Twitter in pictures. It allows us to distill an idea to its essence to communicate immediately and efficiently.

Visual thinking uses images as tools to allow the creative and emotional part of the brain to process information in an intuitive manner. Applying sensory, imaginative experience, visualization and perceptual thinking — in contrast to logical reason, verbal communication and critical thinking — is one of the most effective ways to develop creative ideas and turn complex problems in to clear solutions.

First codified by Harvard's Rudolph Arnheim in his seminal 1969 book, visual thinking can be used to observe, record, organize, evaluate and manifest ideas.

Further reading here.

Video by Sean Kelly on VIMEO.

Question the Question

“If a problem can't be solved within the frame in which it was conceived,
 then the solution lies in reframing the problem.”

― Brian McGreevy

The More the Merrier

Sean Kelly
"The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas." — Linus Pauling

Presentations in Sean Kelly's Creativity Seminar emphasize the importance of developing multiple ideas — as many possibilities as possible. The more the merrier. If you only go with your first idea, it’s likely that it’s also the first idea that everyone else will have. And then you’re just stuck with something obvious.

When photographers are looking for an image, they shoot a lot of images. In the old days, that meant using up a lot of film, which got expensive. Today, with a seemingly endless supply of memory on our digital cameras, it's still always worth the time to keep shooting. Even if they need only one picture, good photographers — especially photojournalists — shoot dozens, perhaps hundreds of images for any project.

Even if they might think they got some good shots right away, and even if they got the one that fulfilled the assignment, they stick around and keep looking, keep exploring, finding new angles, waiting for something unexpected to happen.

When you look at the contact sheets of the multiple pictures captured by great photographers, you can see proof that the best images — the real masterpieces — are hardly ever the first shots on the roll of film.

The same holds true for writers, and problem-solvers in any field. The greater number of ideas you come up with, the greater likehood of creating really winning ideas. Generate as many ideas as possible, both good and bad, instead of just settling for the first few and giving up too soon. Usually, the most elegant idea is just around the corner.

Later in the creative process there will be plenty of time to be more selective and more critical. That second stage is when you'll shift from looking for quantity to looking for quality.

But because you made the extra effort to invent a lot of concepts early on, the job of picking the best one is going to be so much easier than if you had stopped after the first one, or merely been lazy and gone with an obvious one. Giving yourself lots of choices makes the final choice so simple.

And, any left over ideas that didn't get used are yours to keep -- to reuse, recombine, revitalize on your next assignment. Now you're building an archive of ideas.

More importantly, you're building mental muscle: the stamina to keep producing concepts.

Sean Kelly's Creativity Seminar explores how this goal of producing many ideas can be easily achieved through the use of tools and techniques such as lateral thinking, divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

Similarly, Michael Michalko — author of Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses, among other books — encourages creative thinkers to go beyond their first notion, through a deliberate challenge: Setting a quota.
Ask the average adult for ideas and you will be amazed at how few ideas they have. For example, ask a friend to come up with alternative uses for the common brick and my hunch is your friend may come up with not many, perhaps, three or four. 
However, if I asked you to come up with 60 uses for the common brick as fast as you can, this forces you to come with 60 ideas. By forcing yourself to meet a quota, you put your internal critic on hold and write everything down, including the obvious and weak. 
The first third will be the same-old, same-old ideas you always get. These ideas are the familiar and safe responses that lie closest to your consciousness, and therefore, are naturally thought of first. The second third will be more interesting and the last third will show more insight, curiosity and complexity because now you are stretching your imagination. 
To meet your quota, you find yourself listing all the usual uses (build a wall, fireplace, outdoor barbeque and so on) as well as listing everything that comes to mind (anchor, projectile in riots, ballast, a tool for leveling dirt, material for sculptures, doorstop, device to hold down newspapers, a portable step to carry with you so you can stand on it in crowds, stone crab cracker and so on) as you stretch your imagination to meet your quota. A quota allows you to generate more imaginative alternatives than you otherwise would. 
We are taught to be exclusionary thinkers, which means we exclude anything that is not immediately related to our subject. If there is any ambiguity, the average person will invariably censor it and the thought dissipates back into nothingness. This exclusionary way of thinking is how we lost our natural capacity to spontaneously generate ideas. 
This is why the average person produces only a handful of ideas when brainstorming; whereas, a creative genius will produce great quantities of ideas. Thomas Edison, for example, created 3000 different ideas for a lighting system before he stepped back to evaluate them for practicality and profitability.  
All geniuses produce great quantities of ideas because they uncritically search for all possible alternatives. Albert Einstein was asked once what the difference was between him and the average person, he answered “If you ask the average person to find a needle in a haystack, he or she will stop when they find a needle. I, on the other hand, will go through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles."
Read the full post here.

Using Both Sides of the Brain

"Envision the thinking process as a kayak with two paddles. One paddle represents critical thinking while the other represents creative thinking.  If you were to use only one paddle (i.e., critical thinking), you’d end up going in circles.  To make the kayak move forward, you’ve got to alternate between paddles." — Tim Hurson

Critical thinking and creative thinking are valued in all fields. But different fields value one more than the other. 

Ideally, industries that have traditionally emphasized and rewarded the critical could greatly benefit by adapting the habits of the creative.  

Critical thinking is logical, verbal, analytical and rational. Creative thinking is imaginative, visual, intuitive and non-judgmental.

We need critical thinking strategies to effectively evaluate, revise, and communicate our good ideas. Tools of critical thinking allow us to analyze arguments, use sound reasoning, evaluate and refine the most promising ideas, construct persuasive arguments, and become more conscious of our own and others’ thinking. 

Creative thinking tools and techniques push our thinking in new directions—releasing our imagination and generating innovative ideas. 
Together, critical and creative thinking enable and promote a whole-minded thinking with the two complementary halves of our brain, combining the analytical and the imaginative thinking modes. In traditional brainstorming, the first stage is the creative: generating multiple new ideas. The second stage is the critical: being selective in deciding which are the best ideas.

Critical and creative thinking are fundamental to human intellectual progress. Depending on context and purpose, critical and creative thinking can be independent or interdependent.

The following academic definitions reflect constructs in an educational setting:
CRITICAL THINKING is the linear,  fact-based, judgmental consideration of a form of knowledge, the grounds that support it, and the logical conclusions that follow. It involves analyzing and evaluating one’s own thinking and that of others. 
CREATIVE THINKING involves creating something new or original. It involves the skills of flexibility, originality, fluency, elaboration, brainstorming, modification, imagery, associative thinking, attribute listing, metaphorical thinking, and forced relationships. The aim of creative thinking is to stimulate curiosity and promote divergence.  
Creative thinking draws upon or intentionally breaks with established symbolic rules and procedures. It usually involves the individual or collective behaviors of preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, elaboration, and communication, but may also occur spontaneously.  
In the context of college teaching and learning, creative thinking engages students in:  
  • Bringing together existing ideas into new configurations
  • Developing new properties or possibilities for something that already exists
  • Discovering something entirely new -- with an emphasis on the use of the imagination
(See chart above for more definitions)

(Definitions adapted from John Dewey; Richard Paul and Lind Elder; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, M.A. Rosenman and J. S. Gero, and North Carolina State University research)

Brainstorming: Accentuate the Positive

A re-posting of an article, from The Creative Leadership Forum, by Paul Sloane, author of The Leader's Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills.

By identifying the negative, Sloane accentuates the positive:


"They say brainstorms are old-fashioned and no longer effective. But the real reason for the frustrations is that the brainstorms are not facilitated properly. A well-run brainstorm is fun and energetic. It will generate plenty of good ideas. But a poor brainstorm can be frustrating and demotivational. Let's look at some simple ways to ruin your next brainstorm meeting.

1. Having no clear objectives
A brainstorm with a vague or unclear purpose will wander and lose its way. So set a clear objective. The purpose of the brainstorm is to generate many creative ideas to answer a specific goal. It is best to express the goal as a question. A wooly objective is not helpful. 'How can we do better?' is not as good as 'How can we double sales in the next 12 months?' Once the question has been agreed it is written up clearly for all to see. It is worth setting objectives for the number of ideas to be generated and the time to be spent. 'We are looking to generate 60 ideas in the next 20 minutes. Then we will whittle them down to 4 or 5 really good ones.'

2. Too homogenous a group
If everyone is from the same department then creativity can be inhibited and you may get 'group think'. Choose the group carefully. The best size is somewhere between six and twelve. Too few people and there are not enough diverse inputs. Too many people and it is hard to control and retain everyone's commitment. Sprinkle the group with a few outsiders from other areas or even from outside the business - people who can bring some different perspectives and wacky ideas. A good mix of people works best - varied ages, men and women, experienced and fresh in, etc.

3. Letting the boss act as facilitator
Beware of having an autocratic boss with his or her team. They can inhibit or shape the discussion. If the boss is present then it is better to have a good independent facilitator - someone who can encourage input from everyone and stop one person from dominating. The worst formula for a brainstorm is generally the department manager leading the meeting and acting as scribe and censor at the same time.

4. Allowing early criticism
The most important rule of brainstorming is - suspend judgment. In order to encourage a wealth of wacky ideas it is essential that no one is critical, negative or judgmental about an idea. Any idea that is uttered - no matter how stupid - must be written down. The rule about suspending judgement during the idea generation phase is so important that it is worth enforcing rigorously. A good technique is to issue water pistols; anyone who is critical gets squirted.

5. Settling for a few ideas.
Don't get a handful of ideas and then start analyzing. Quantity is great. The more ideas the better. Quantity improves quality. Think of it as a Darwinian process. The more separate ideas that are generated the greater the chance that some will be fit enough to survive. You need stacks of energy and buzz driving lots of wacky ideas. Crazy thoughts that are completely unworkable are often the springboards for other ideas that can be adapted into great new solutions. So keep the crazy ideas coming - you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find one prince!

6. No closure or follow through.
Don't stop the meeting after generating lots of ideas with a vague promise to follow up. If people see no real outcomes they will become frustrated with the process and lose faith. You should quickly analyze the ideas at the meeting. One of the best ways is to divide the proposals into three categories - promising, interesting or reject. If any of the promising ideas are real no-brainers - so good that they should be implemented straight away then give them to someone as an action item immediately.

You should evaluate the ideas using clear criteria - e.g. we want ideas that are practical, creative and appealing. Once you have reduced the long list to a short list you can let people vote. Give everyone three points. They can allocate points to their favorite ideas in any way that they want. Then you total the points and select the best for further action.

Close the meeting by thanking everyone for their input. Mention again one of two of the best, most inventive or funniest ideas. Then see which ideas you can implement - even if they are small things. People enjoy short, high-energy brainstorms that lead to actions. These meetings can motivate people, improve efficiency and drive innovation."

More about Paul Sloane here.

Pyramid Dream

John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design and former associate director of research at the MIT Media Lab, works to integrate technology, education and the arts into a 21st-century synthesis of creativity and innovation.

In his extraordinary blog he describes a conversation he had with Dr. Patricia Brennan, of University of Wisconsin-Madison, about the nature of creativity and imagination:

"[This chart was] inspired by Maslow's famous Hierarchy of Needs. I was impressed how Patti had a clear mental model of why "teaching creativity doesn't work but expanding their imaginations might work better" in the context of some of her work in patient healthcare. Her basic thought was that in order to get patients to take control of their health, they need to imagine what it looks like to be more healthy.

At the base of the pyramid is human reflex -- i.e. response to a stimuli. One level above it is problem solving which in her mind doesn't require creativity and just a set of processes that can be activated. Above that is creativity -- an elevated form of problem solving that involves invention and improvisation. And at the very top is imagination, which Patti insisted is "boundless creativity." You can mix the different levels at the interfaces and see a different kind of creativity/action happening. I sincerely enjoyed how this model felt in my mind.

More inspiration from John Maeda.

(Image credit: "Brennan's Hierachy Chart," from TEDMED 2010
at the RWJF Pioneer Portfolio Meeting, by John Maeda)

TIME, Microsoft, MPAA host Creativity Conference


"It would greatly help to have an explicit innovation budget in federal government." — President Bill Clinton

On April 26, Sean Kelly was thrilled to participate in a unique event:

In Washington, DC, The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) convened leaders from the world of politics, media, business and government to engage in a direct dialogue about the role creativity plays in our economy and in creating the workforce of the future.

The Creativity Conference brought together many of the most important artists and innovators of our time from all parts of society for a mediated conversation about spurring growth and opportunity based on creativity.

Panelists and speakers included President Bill Clinton, TIME Magazine Managing Editor Rick Stengel, film studio executive Harvey Weinstein, internet pioneer Ted Leonis, PBS President Paula Kerger, Microsoft Scientist Steven Bathiche, Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson, and the chairman and CEO of the MPAA Chris Dodd.

They discussed questions that are fundamental to the future of the country — from the push to develop environments that inspire creativity to how our leaders can harness the power of a workforce that is moving from industrial manufacturing to the tapping of the creative mind.
"Develop a space, an environment, where creative people can be inspired, take risks, and fail."  
— Paula Kerger, President, CEO of PBS
Working with the Motion Picture Association of America and Microsoft, TIME polled Americans about creativity in the workplace, schools and government. Does the U.S. still have the momentum to be a global leader in innovation? Is our creativity being harnessed at work? The results are encouraging—and not.
"More than 50% of creative ideas are horrible. But how do we say 'no' without tamping down creativity?" 
— Walter Isaacson, President, CEO of The Aspen Institute
Creativity is a renewable resource, one that’s universally, if not evenly, distributed. We don’t decide how much we get, but it’s up to each of us—and the nation as a whole—to tap what’s there.


Source: TIME Magazine

Quantity Leads to Quality (But Let's Qualify That)

In Sloan Mangagement Review, Josh Hyatt explores how brainstorming teams are often unable to identify which of the concepts they've developed is best. So engrossed in the ideation, they lose perspective on the second, perhaps most critical, part of the creative process: selectivity.

A recent university study explored what differentiates brainstorming sessions that produce a single "A+" idea from those that produce multiple "B" ideas. The coauthors of the paper are Karan Girotra, a professor at INSEAD, and Christian Terwiesh and Karl T. Ulrich, both professors at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Existing research [on brainstorming] often focuses on how many ideas groups come up with, as opposed to evaluating the merit of those ideas. It turns out that brainstorming groups "are very bad at evaluating ideas," according to Terwiesch. "Certain members will get hung up on certain ideas, and often there is a strong personality whose opinion will dominate."

To combat this dynamic, the authors, in their research, split people into two groups: those generating ideas and those assessing them. After a group came up with new product ideas, researchers asked as many as 20 outside experts to subjectively assess the concepts.

Two types of groups generated ideas. One followed a traditional model, assembling a group - in this case, students studying product design - and having them come up with appropriate product ideas for dorm rooms. They worked solely in a group. The other group took a hybrid approach: Those students worked on ideas by themselves before coming together to share their thinking.

Which technique yielded the best ideas? Strictly speaking, the traditional brainstorming groups came up with the very best ideas. They also came up with the very worst ones. In other words, their results' quality varied much more than did the hybrid group's results. The hybrid group produced more ideas that were, on average, of higher quality. But, as Girotra notes, "when it comes to innovation, the extremes are what matter - not the norm and not the average." So, if both groups work for the same amount of time, the traditional brainstorming team "significantly outperforms" the hybrid group when it comes to producing the best ideas, according to the authors.

This finding contradicts most existing literature on the subject, which tends to conclude that while working in teams is more satisfying, working alone generates the most effective ideas."
The complete article is available at here. (Image source: InnovationTools)

Innovation Nation

"Create as if the fate of the nation 
depends on you.  It does."

— Barack Obama, February 2011

Innovation is a Personal Skill

Mainstream thinking about innovation has focused on process and policy. A recent book addresses a critical element largely overlooked — the essential role of the personal skills of the innovator.

In The Innovator's Way, authors Peter J. Denning and Robert P. Dunham define innovation as the art of getting people to adopt change. Innovation, they write, is not simply an invention, a policy, or a process to be managed. Innovation is a personal skill that can be learned, developed through practice, and extended into organizations.

Denning is a pioneer in operating systems who has taught at Princeton and worked for NASA, and Dunham is a former VP at Motorola who founded The Institute for Generative Leadership.

The authors draw a distinction between invention and innovation: many inventions never become innovations, and many innovations do not involve an invention. They identify and describe eight personal practices that all successful innovators perform. Weakness in any of these practices, they show, blocks innovation.

Denning and Duham provide a detailed account of the eight practices, grouped into three segments, and how to accomplish them; and they chart the path to innovation mastery, from individual practices to teams and social networks:

Articulating a new possibility that would bring value to the community by addressing an issue or seizing an opportunity.

Building a compelling, engaging story of how the world would be better if the possibility were made real. more…
Presenting a proposed practice and its benefits to a community and its leaders so that they commit to consider it.

Getting community members to commit to adopt the practice for the first time, reserving the option of dropping it if not satisfied after a trial period.

Getting community members to commit to the practice for an extended period, integrating it into their other practices, standards, incentives, and processes, and making it productive for its useful life.
Coordinating actions, planning and carrying out all individual and team commitments needed to support adoption and deliver its value.

Working proactively to produce the essential outcomes of the other practices, overcoming obstacles, building and maintaining trust, and sustaining the leader’s own commitment.

Practicing the other practices until you can perform them automatically without conscious thought, and helping the community members embody the practice they are adopting.

The authors elaborate:

"In reality, these practices are not sequential at all. The innovator moves constantly among them, refining the results of earlier ones after seeing their consequences later. It is better to think of them as being done in parallel rather than in numerical order.

The overall effectiveness of these practices depends on the innovator integrating them into a single, coherent style. The practices affirmatively suggest that Is innovation a learnable practice."

A summary of a sample chapter focuses on dilemmas common to any industry and summed up with a word that all of us can identify with: messes.

"Messes are intransigent social situations that people want to exit but feel stuck in. While some messes may be irresolvable, we can often find ways out of messes through seven basic strategies augmenting the eight practices: declare, learn, question the paradigm, blend, develop a “we”, lead collaboration, and develop shared promises. Collaboration is at their core.

Collaboration is a practice of creating new observers and new possible actions together, in a mood of commitment to take care of the concerns of all parties as best possible. Through collaboration, a community creates a solution to a messy problem that takes care of all their concerns at the same time. Collaboration does not mean that community members give up or comprise their dearest concerns. It means they design a solution that recognizes their concerns. The process often leads to a reconfiguration of everyone’s concerns. The hallmark of successful collaboration is the experience of solidarity and new energy: a “we”.

History tells us that resolutions of messes are likely to be disruptive innovations. The reason is that the paradigm (belief system) hosting the mess does not allow the new thinking needed to resolve the mess. Only a belief-changing innovation driven by an entrepreneurial mindset will succeed. This is why many in the mess feel threatened about the prospect of a solution. The solution may challenge everything connected with the mess, including social power structures and deep beliefs."
From The Innovator's Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation
by Peter J. Denning and Robert P. Dunham (The MIT Press)

Featured Speaker at Media Conference in NYC

Sean Kelly presented a Showcase Session at CMA13, the annual national convention of the College Media Association, which was held in New York City and hosted over 1,500 attendees.

Along with top journalists such as CNN's Christine Romans and Columbia University's Sree Sreenivasan, Kelly was a featured speaker in a Showcase Session. He offered tools and techniques for creative thinking that can help journalists develop ideas, solve problems and be more innovative.

That "Eureka" Moment

"I get my best ideas in the bath tub."
— Archimedes

Recognized as the greatest mathematician of antiquity, Archimedes is perhaps best remembered today for the anecdote about his discovery of how to measure the volume of an irregularly shaped object. Challenged with determining whether a crown was made of solid gold or contained some silver, he knew he could not melt down the headpiece to measure its density, for that would destroy it.

Taking a break from this work challenge, Archimedes lowered himself into his bathtub, and in doing so he observed that the water level rose -- and he realized that this principle could provide a way to measure the volume of the crown. As it was submerged in a bath, an amount of water equal to the volume of the object was displaced. Dividing the weight of the crown by the weight of the water displaced, Archimedes arrived at the density of the crown; a lower density would mean other materials had been added to the gold.

Thrilled by his discovery, the scientist cried "Eureka" (I have found it!), leapt from his bath and, excited to immediately share the news, apparently ran through the streets naked. (It's unlikely, however, that people hearing Archimede's one-word exclamation thought he had just invented the first vacuum cleaner...)

Often the stimulating power of a bath or shower can allow us to make our own discoveries on topics other than the water itself.

The fact that many people discover great ideas while in the shower is partly biological: warm water on the scalp and through the pores increases blood flow, which gets the brain churning. The mere sound of the water, producing a constant repetitive white noise (or wet noise) has a hypnotic and relaxing effect, too.

Merely stepping away from a work environment to the privacy of a shower stall or tub can release anxieties and clear one's mind.

Perhaps most significantly, a morning shower is the culmination of a period when the brain has switched to subconcious activity during sleep. It's at night that our minds have a chance to mull over the challenges of the previous day. Turning off the conscious brain, freer thinking rises to the surface, and fully escapes during a reinvigorating shower.

To capture the "Eureka" moment, some thinkers, attuned to the moments when their best ideas come to them, might even have a wax pencil ready to immediately write down their brainstorms right there on the tiles of the shower wall.

On Creative Thinking at USC Annenberg Innovation Lab

Sean Kelly was honored to be a guest lecturer on creative thinking at the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, at the invitation of  Erin Reilly, Managing and Creative Director of AIL, and Sasha Anawalt, Director of Arts Journalism Programs at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Demonstrating techniques such as visual
thinking, lateral thinking, divergent thinking and convergent thinking, Kelly's presentation provided tools for analyzing problems, developing multiple solutions, and implementing new ideas to allow journalists, designers, technologists, media strategists, and business entrepreneurs to strengthen their imaginations and become more inventive.

The USC Annenberg Innovation Lab focuses on media, culture, and society as the basis for innovation at the intersection of art, science, design, and engineering. At the Lab, experts from academia, private and public sector firms, and not-for-profit organizations come together to define, create and disperse culturally relevant applications, platforms, media genres, and practices. The Lab's mission is to be a leading innovator and advisor on transformational changes happening in our participatory cultures.

From the Annenberg Innovation Lab:
In order to fulfill our mission, we will: 
Build a self-sustaining laboratory that will spur an open culture of innovation at both the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and in the associated cross-school programs of engineering, cinema, art, education, business and music. 
Enable faculty and students to learn, create and collaborate in a context that values diverse expertise, and to develop projects that have both practical application and social impact in the world at large. 
Create a meeting ground for world-class academics and students to engage with innovative firms, organizations, and communities that will define the media landscape for the next century. 
Sean Kelly was a 2012 USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellow.

(Full bio)